History of High Heels
[ Back ] [ Up ] [ Next ]
Ever wondered where high heels came
from? The first person to answer "the shoe shop" is guaranteed to upset me ;-)
This shows some of the more "Memorable Moments in Shoe
- Approx. 4000 B.C.
- Earliest depictions of shoes (flexible leather pieces held in place with lacings) in
ancient Egyptian murals on tombs and temples.
- Approx. 200 B.C.
- Platform sandals called kothorni, with high wood or cork soles, become popular among
Roman tragic actors.
- Approx. 1000 A.D.
- At Saxon weddings, father of the bride customarily presents the groom with one of the
bride's shoes, symbolizing transfer of his authority over her. The bride's shoe is thrown
to the bridesmaids; the one who catches it will be next to marry.
- King Henry II of England popularizes shoes with narrow, pointed toes. Legend says they
hid his deformed toes.
- Knights of Richard the Lionhearted begin to wear sollerets, downward-curving pointed
toes, to keep their feet from slipping out of stirrups.
- A law passed in Paris bans university professors from wearing shoes with long, pointed
toes. However, shoe toes, a symbol of rank, grow longer and pointier during the next two
centuries, culminating by about 1382 in the spiky-toed cracowe. Kings and princes
sometimes wore toes 30 inches long.
- Knights fighting in the Battle of Sempach in Switzerland are forced to amputate their
shoes' long toes after dismounting before they can advance on foot.
- Approx. 1500
- Shoes begin to be made in two pieces, with a flexible upper attached to a heavier,
stiffer sole. This leads to the introduction of the heel, devised as a better way of
keeping a rider's foot in the stirrup. Heeled boots for men quickly become fashionable.
- Henry VIII of England favors wide-toed shoes, sometimes 12 inches across, which had to
be stuffed to keep them on his feet.
- Short-statured Italian bride Catherine d'Medici, married at 14 to the Duke of Orleans,
wears shoes with two-inch heels to exaggerate her height. The high heel may have been
invented by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
- Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"), another vertically challenged monarch, wears heels
as high as possible. From this period until the early 19th century, high heels are
frequently in vogue for both sexes.
- An extreme shoe style called chopines, popular among women in Italy, Spain and France,
had pedestals of cork or wood as tall as 24 inches. A Venetian lady wearing chopines
needed two servants to help her in and out of a gondola.
- Pilgrims arrive in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A law is passed prohibiting
"excess in bootes."
- French shoemaker Nicholas Lestage, so clever at his trade that some accuse him of
sorcery, becomes shoemaker to Louis XIV. The heels of Louis's shoes, some decorated with
miniature battle scenes, are as tall as five inches. High "Louis" heels are also
fashionable for ladies.
- Madame de Pompadour, tiny-footed favorite of Louis XV, popularizes high, narrow
"Pompadour" heels. Ladies tape their feet to reduce their apparent size and
faint at court.
- Marie Antoinette ascends the scaffold to be executed wearing two-inch heels. However, in
the wake of the French Revolution heels become lower than at any time in the 18th century.
- Quincy Reed opens America's first retail shoe store in Boston. Around this period, Marc
Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) invents machines for cutting soles and riveting them to
- Early 1800s
- Flat shoes and Grecian-style sandals become popular.
- Approx. 1865
- The "sneaker" or plimsoll, a canvas-topped, rubber-soled shoe, is invented for
badminton and tennis. Ladies' heel heights vary but stay below two inches during the rest
of the century.
- The ladies' "pump" or court shoe, a British invention, reaches America. Shoe
stores begin to stock shoes with a range of widths around now.
- Approx. 1955
- Tall "stiletto" heels for women's shoes, invented in Italy, become a fashion
rage. Very pointed toes come into vogue for both sexes.
- Return of the platform shoe.
- Athletic shoes diversify and gain popularity. Some women begin wearing them to work or
As to the future, who knows what's in store? Fashion has a
habit of repeating itself..... But as you can see, initially heels weren't just a female
thing, but were started for both sexes. At one point, women weren't allowed to wear heels.
Admittedly, with the birth of the stiletto in the 50's, they became another weapon in the
female arsenal! ;-)